Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review.
It’s an exciting time for craft distillers in the US. Inspired by the success of craft breweries, investors and entrepreneurs have been opening new distilleries all over the country. Over the 2010s, the number of active craft distilleries in the US has exploded from under 500 to over 2,000. Not only are more distilleries opening, but more have been open long enough to start releasing older aged brown spirits.
Watershed Distillery was founded in 2010 in Columbus, Ohio. They started, as many distilleries have, with unaged spirits like vodka and gin. They’ve recently been able to broaden their selection as more whiskey batches have finished aging. Today’s offering is part of a highly limited release of their six-year-old Barrel Strength Straight Rye Whiskey. Only 125 bottles were being put out with this release, with a lottery for a chance to purchase a bottle.
While craft beer labels have been able to promote themselves as a higher quality alternative to mass market brands, America’s largest whiskey brands have a longstanding reputation of quality. Instead, craft distillers have often positioned themselves as doing something different, often by utilizing novel mash bills or experimental techniques. With that in mind, this expression from Watershed is atypically typical.
Their Barrel Strength Straight Rye Whiskey has a mash bill of 57 percent rye, 36 percent corn, and seven percent barley. While heavier on the rye than some, it’s a balanced composition that holds close to the most common mash bills for straight rye. It was aged in new charred oak barrels, never used to hold some uncommon liqueur. Without any unusual gimmick, it’s a whiskey that stands on its quality.
In announcing the Barrel Strength Straight Rye, Watershed stated an intention to “define the rye whiskey category in Ohio.” In such a relatively unexplored category, this kind of straightforward expression could set the baseline. The explosion of craft distillers has led to a much wider geographic distribution of distilleries. American whiskey is no longer limited to Kentucky and Tennessee, and we’ll be seeing what kind of regional identities develop as these new distillers release their matured expressions on the market.
Tasting Notes: Watershed Barrel Strength Straight Rye Whiskey
Vital Stats: 61.4% ABV. Mash Bill: 57% rye, 36% corn, 7% barley. 122.8 Proof. Suggested Retail: 89.99 USD.
Appearance: Tawny Amber.
Nose: The smell of creamy vanilla is present, but not overpowering. The aroma has a gourmand quality, but leans to spicy rather than sweet.
Palate: There’s a strong base of oak, accented by a tart note of rich spice and dark cherry. The taste opens up into a creamy caramel feel reminiscent of cherry cola. It leaves a semi-sweet finish of graham cracker with hints of clove.